Summer Time, Burial Time

Translated from Bulgarian

Often, when I find myself out in nature during summer, at noon time, I am reminded of death. I am reminded of death by the image of burial. Grass reminds me of it, and so does the scent of earth when it’s heated by the sun. I even imagine that I don’t mind if I am to be buried in the noon of that day, there, in that same piece of earth whose scent is filling my nostrils. I feel like being placed in it and embracing it from the inside, where it is cold and soothing. Because, the way heat reminds me of death, coldness reminds me of eternity. Eternity in which there’s neither heat nor coldness, no grief, no pain, no death.

I was invited to the burial of an old man from my village. Death is considered an ordinary thing when it befalls people of age. They have spent their due time here, people tend to say, it’s time for them to depart. I’ve thought many times about that. Can there be a measure for how much time a man is supposed to spend above the earth before he’s ready to go in it? It looks just so inviting sometimes, with all that scent and all those grasses, I cannot help thinking to myself while walking along with the small procession of grief-ridden, sobbing relatives.

We arrive at our destination. A hole is gaping in front of us, ready to take in the deceased. The relatives start taking their turns at parting with him. The old minister begins narrating his almost inarticulate song of farewell. That dreadful song—of blessing the dead and wishing him an eternity of afterlife—only fuels the sobbing and crying of the women. The sun remains unyielding in its heatful gaze; not a single cloud is to be seen. One bird is only there to remind us of life. Is it mocking us? Unwillingly, I start listening to its song rather than that of the minister. I try to imagine it saying “Have a joyful rest in your eternal nest!” but I cannot. I know it is saying something else, to someone else.

The minister finishes with singing, or, rather, narrating his song. Two men, the same who had dug the hole, clad in cotton vests, take the coffin and start pulling it down slowly in as much ceremony as possible. The coffin reaches the bottom of the hole. The ropes are pulled up. Small lumps of earth start falling onto the coffin’s cover. Last words of farewell, uttered in a quiet, tearful voice.

People slowly take their way to the restaurant, where the lunch, mournful and sad at first, would become—in a few glasses’ time—an almost lively chit-chat celebration of survival.

In the meantime, another bird has joined the first at the cemetery, I cannot help imagining. Their song shouldn’t make a difference now, however; there is no living man to hear it.

This story originally appeared in Plamak Magazine.

Anton Chikakchiev